Democrats criticize Trump response on Hong Kong

Democrats criticize Trump response on Hong Kong
© Getty Images

Violent clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police in the Hong Kong airport prompted an outpouring of support Tuesday from U.S. lawmakers for the demonstrators.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE for his part expressed hope the escalating clashes can be resolved, but offered no direct warning to China — leading to criticism from some Democrats that he should have more forcefully backed the protesters.

Footage of startling scenes in the world’s eighth busiest airport dominated U.S. media coverage Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The State Department urged China to “allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy,” but Trump himself took a more neutral tone.

“It's a very tricky situation,” Trump told reporters.  “I think it’ll work out. And I hope it works out for liberty. I hope it works out for everybody, including China. I hope it works out peacefully. I hope nobody gets hurts. I hope nobody gets killed.”

Later on Twitter, he urged “everyone” to “be calm and safe” as he claimed U.S. intelligence showed Chinese troops moving toward Hong Kong.

“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” Trump tweeted.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMurphy: Chance of deal on gun background checks bill 'less than 50-50' Murphy says White House still interested in improving background checks Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump MORE (D-Conn.) responded to that tweet with his own saying “this is not foreign policy.”

“It's hard to overstate how meaningful support or backing from the U.S. is to the work of human rights and democracy activists overseas,” Murphy wrote in another tweet. “It's also hard to overstate how devastating it is when they risk it all to speak up for these ‘American’ values, and America is silent.”

The airport violence came the same day Trump announced planned tariffs on $300 billion in goods would be delayed until mid-December for many major products, including cellphones, laptops and other popular Christmas gifts.

Trump also said in a tweet that he and the United States are being blamed for the ongoing unrest, adding that he “can't imagine why.”

The Chinese government has attempted to dismiss the widespread demonstrations as a “creation” of the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (R-Utah) tweeted his support for the people of Hong Kong, which contrasted with Trump’s messages arguing both sides should be calm.

“Protests in Hong Kong are further exposing China’s relentless campaign of repression, censorship, and the imprisonment of millions,” Romney wrote. “I support the people of Hong Kong in their quest for freedom and autonomy. The Chinese Communist Party and the military should stay in Beijing.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Va.) wrote that the U.S. had a “responsibility to speak up in defense of democracy and make clear that a violent crackdown by the Hong Kong or Chinese governments against this protest would be unacceptable.”

Protests in Hong Kong started in June over a proposed law that would allow extradition from the semiautonomous territory to mainland China.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, suspended the bill, but did not withdraw it. As the protests have endured, protesters’ demands have grown into wider calls for Lam to step down, for investigations into police brutality and for more democracy. Violence has also escalated, with Sunday seeing police firing tear gas into a train station.

Authorities, in turn, have accused protesters of attacking officers with bricks and gasoline bombs.

The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday urged authorities in Hong Kong to “immediately” investigate the use of force by police against protesters, saying that there is “credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.”

Following Sunday’s clashes, protesters flooded Hong Kong International Airport on Monday, forcing the airport to suspend check-in.

On Tuesday, thousands of protesters returned to occupy the airport, forcing the Hong Kong Airport Authority to again suspend check-in and to warn passengers to “leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible.”

Scenes from the airport Tuesday broadcast around the world showed mayhem between protesters blockading departure areas with carts and police armed with batons and pepper spray.

At one point, protesters detained a man they accused of being an undercover police officer, pushing him to the ground and beating him. The man lost consciousness and was later successfully evacuated by paramedics.

Protesters also detained and pinned another man to the ground they accused of being a “fake” reporter. The editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times later identified the man as one of the paper’s reporters.

Footage shared on social media by a Wall Street Journal reporter also showed demonstrators cornering an officer who had forced a woman to the ground, taking his baton and beating him with it. The officer drew his gun, and the protesters fled.

In the United States, the State Department urged “all sides to exercise restraint,” but stressed officials “remain staunch in our support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.”

“The ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong reflect the sentiment of Hongkongers and their broad concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are core values that we share with Hong Kong; these freedoms must be vigorously protected.”

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBill Maher says he's 'glad' David Koch is dead Trump spurs new wave of economic angst by escalating China fight Trump on North Korean projectile launches: Kim 'likes testing missiles' MORE also had a meeting Tuesday with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi that did not appear beforehand on Pompeo’s public schedule. A one-sentence State Department statement afterward did not mention Hong Kong, saying only that the two “had an extended exchange of views on U.S.-China relations.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Is there internet life after thirty? Pelosi says Dems 'have to be ready to throw a punch — for the children' in 2020 MORE (D-Calif.), meanwhile, urged Lam to meet with protesters and “act on their legitimate grievances.”

“It is alarming to watch the #HongKong police with support from Beijing intensify their use of force against the protesters and label them violent criminals,” she tweeted Monday.

In another tweet, Pelosi also appeared to reference Trump’s trade talks, swiping at those failing to speak out due to “commercial interests.”

“If we don’t speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,” she tweeted.